Sunday, 22 July 2012

The mind has left the building..

Mine, not hers.

Off to the UK next Tuesday for the loooongest holiday in years and years, seeing lots of wonderful friends, eating carrot cake every day and going to what's it called - the big sports, event thingy they have over there in London. You know, what's it called?

All ready to do TWO country supporting at the Olympics!

So, my brain has really left already and is impatiently waiting at the departure gate at Haneda Airport, getting stressed in case body arrives too late. The body is still going through the motions back in Sapporo.

Okaasan is fine, usual life.In fact, even surprised us a few times by DOING things like washing up plates in the kitchen in the morning, and wrapping up newspapers nicely for recycling.
Not sure if she has understood I will be away soon, certainly I've told her a few times...but there was no particular interested response, so maybe no.
I did have plans to try and get her to the hair salon before I go, but MY chaotic life and its needs take precedence. So, she'll go hairy for a few more weeks, because I doubt darling son will notice - unless he falls over her tresses on the floor.

She is in paper cutting/tearing mode.
Sits in her room cutting up the back of supermarket flyers into little notepad-size useful pieces and wrapping up newspaper into balls to stuff in an array of little bags she has on the carpet. Like, 10 bags maybe? The kind of little bags every Japanese woman seems to have, useful little bags for stuff.

Anyway, I will be gone till mid-August. I don't know yet about my Internet connection while in the UK, so this may be a last posting for a while.
At the end of my trip I am going to stay 3 days at Dad and Jane's village, staying with their friends and making sad walks through the woods and fields near the house where they lived for years. So many memories. It'll be hard. Somebody else lives in the house now, and there is still the garden and the tree where I scattered Dad's ashes 3 years ago, and Jane's ashes 2 years ago.
Living here in Japan, all of that seems so distant. I probably conveniently push aside some of the grieving, I expect the trip back will release it all messily.

Anyway, unless Okaasan barks at the neighbors or cooks me a 5 course farewell dinner I probably won't post here for a while.

Over and out :-)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

There are people...

First there was THIS.......

Then, there was THIS......

...and in between a whole lot of other stuff......Mammoth BBQ 2012 a happy success. Actually, this year - not so mammoth, because only 20 people came and so I could relax more and sit down and talk to people and eat and drink....and rescue the young guest who fainted after mixing medications with alcohol (stupid and cute girlfriend of a bike taxi driver). My friend who is a nurse leapt into action, we called an ambulance and stretched out the girl on Okaasan's carpet...but she started coming round luckily and 30 mins later she returned to the party and stuck to soft drinks.

And Okaasan? She realized at her lunchtime that there WAS a BBQ about to happen, and as expected - about 2 pm off she went to escape it all (including passed out girl on the carpet :-))
At 7 pm some guests were leaving and a friend telephoned me to say they'd come across Okaasan down the road under the subway line...hovering...and saying: "I can't go back yet, because there are people at the house"....and I walked out to meet her and bring her back home.
She was very tired, said she'd been downtown, her shopping bag weighed a ton with a big, glossy magazine inside. She was staggering a bit as she walked.
When we got to the corner near the house she could see BBQ guests in the garden still and she stopped and looked ready to run. She stopped in the middle of the road and looked uncertain and clutched her handbag.
I had to turn on the reassurance to overdrive: "let's go home, dinner is waiting, this is your home too you know, you go and come anytime YOU want, you don't have to worry about the guests. They are Yujiro's friends, they are Japanese. Just say a brief 'Hello' and then come in for dinner etc etc"
And I escorted her home. I really don't understand her reaction to   guests. She isn't a shy person at all, all she has to do is walk through the group and say "Hello, are you having a nice time?" and go inside.
Is this some return to a child's attitude to guests in the house? But she grew up in a home which was a business, so I imagine there were always visitors coming to see her father about his truck driving business. Which makes this people avoidance all the stranger. Is she embarrassed about her appearance?

I brought her inside and helped her with the heavy bag. Then cooked dinner and served her quietly at the kitchen table. One drunk guest suddenly burst mistakenly through the kitchen door, but apart from that the ending-party was well away outside.
She ate dinner and then slept by the TV.

And, still no hula mention. Wonderful. Some people have asked me whether it is possible to get her to the old people's hula class - and hope she doesn't notice what type of class it is. I think that IS possible in fact - same building, maybe same room and she won't remember the people from the other group.
But next week I go to the UK for 3 weeks, so I can only take her to that class this week. After that Yujiro would have to rearrange his work to do it....take her there...and he isn't motivated enough to bother. So, the moment we'll just let the topic slip.
She hasn't asked, she hasn't been looking at her hula dance skirts in her room at all. It seems to have drifted away from her memory.

Which is goooood.

Finally. I mentioned a while back about dementia sufferers in the evacuation zones near Fukushima. How it must be SO hard to have dementia and have your whole world thrown into confusion.
There was a story about that in The Japan Times this week.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Still oblivious.

Okaasan still hasn't asked about hula dance class.

And we're not saying.

And that is the wonderful PLUS side of managing the life of someone with can let tricky topics slip and slide away.

I guess that Okaasan lives in the same day, over and over again. Like my fave movie "Groundhog Day". She is always sitting there in her room, the TV is on with the familiar faces and sounds, she is wearing her flowery pajamas, there is a newspaper and magazine on the table and shopping receipts to check, if she goes to the kitchen there is lunch in flasks on the table or we are cooking and serving dinner. There are side trips to the toilet and to wash her face, or take a bath and do a little handwashing of clothes.
And that day goes on and on and on.
She isn't connected to the time/day/month particularly. It could be July or September, or Sunday or a Thursday. Maybe morning.


For us it a holiday weekend in Japan and we are having our annual, mammoth BBQ.
Did the big shop yesterday at COSTCO, the American superstore.
Cat food as a BBQ extra...

Today about 25 people will come to consume all the beef and fish and salads and cheesecake and beer and wine.
I'll feed Okaasan in the kitchen quietly late-morning and I expect she'll head out for a walk in the afternoon and hopefully feel confident enough to come home when she wants to.
Last year? I remember seeing her standing out in a parking area some way from the house, standing there for 20 mins or more looking at the house and the late guests still in the garden - and standing there. NOT coming home.:-(

So. Into BBQ day this year. 

and DON'T mention hula!!!

Thursday, 12 July 2012


We are chickens. He and I. But mostly he.

We haven't told Okaasan the awful truth yet....stalling until she remembers that she wants to join that hula class.
The class that she isn't good enough for.

I got home last night about 8 pm, he and Okaasan had already started dinner and from the front door I could hear her laughter and his chat.
So I went in all smiling and joined dinner, thinking "did he tell her, or not?", but making sure not to mention hula/Hawaii/dance/exercise in case she got onto that topic.
Okaasan seemed very upbeat and we all enjoyed dinner chat and laughs about stuff.

Went back upstairs after dinner.
"Did you tell her yet?"
"Err. No. She seemed very down this evening, so I didn't tell her."



But, me too. I put the task onto him.
We are both nervous about how she will take it, how she will react to knowing: you are not good enough to join a performance level class etc.

We talked about it several times....and he says he is going to be honest with her. That this is best. That: "she should know the reality of her dance level".

Reality? A dementia sufferer?? Hello?????
She is still in 15 years ago thinking, when her husband died and she joined a hula dance class etc - when she could still do the dance steps etc.

This morning was pitiful really. I'm ashamed to say he and I skulked around upstairs and in the kitchen, hoping Okaasan wouldn't ask about the Thursday morning hula class.
It's pouring with rain in Sapporo today, so he has no work. He will be at home with her all day.
Would she suddenly realize it was Thursday at time for a 10 am class?

Well, when we left the house at 9.45 am (gave me a lift to the station in the car), she was still sitting in front of her TV engrossed in the morning noise that is Japanese daytime shows.
She has a calender and a clock, but hadn't yet connected to what day/time it was.

And so. I am here at work all day.
I will go home tonight and find out how that "she should know the reality" worked out.
I expect Okaasan will be in a sad funk, curled up on the carpet by the TV sadly defeated by the world. Pretty sure she won't accept the idea that the old people's hula class may be better for her. So, again. No hula class. No interaction with other people, no feelings of success at being able to do something.

I may stay at the office all night.

But also, this kind of stuff makes me dread (like him) the whole idea of trying-to-get-Okaasan-assessed-for-daycare-attendance.
We know she will fight THAT idea. And trying to get round her to GET her to a hospital for an assessment, and trying to get her to GO to daycare.
Oh, the battles.

We can't get her to even try hula dance class for elderly people. Not even one. I don't hold out much hope for a hospital and a doctor asking questions.


She is too self-aware still. Much too aware. Have to wait until she is more confused?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Oh gawd...

Sorry, been busy - 2 weeks to go now till my trip, and everything gets onto "before I go" stage, work and home life.

Sunshine has been great and we've enjoyed breakfasts outside and the vegetables in the garden.

At the weekend a friend and his son came to tea in the garden, and then we went to revolving sushi with Okaasan - a family trip out. Okaasan liked seeing the 4 year old...until we got to the restaurant and then he was tired and bored and wiggled around on the seat, touching plates, putting his feet dangerously near the table etc.
She wasn't happy and didn't eat so much. Complained in loud whispers to Yujiro...
Sunday, I had the documentary film subtitle editing work again - hours and hours of intense work with the editing team. But, maybe it is done now. Well, it has to be done cos I and the other foreign editor are away for summer now.
Looks great! The film with subtitles.

And. Okaasan. And the hula dance class.
Oh. Gawd.
The teacher doesn't want her.
They have performance day coming up in November and are busy practicing for that etc etc - and Okaasan, while energetic and enjoying it all can't keep up with  step learning etc...

etc. etc. etc.

Oh bugger.

The teacher was SO sweet about it on the phone. In fact she said her own mother has dementia too, so she very understands...but in the politest way possible: DON'T BRING THIS WOMAN INTO MY CLASS!!! It will destroy our practice efforts!!!
A circle class, hobby class would be better. Yes, I can see Okaasan has a lot of pride etc etc etc.


Now I have to think of how to stop Okaasan going to the class tomorrow. The class she enjoyed and thinks she wants to join.

I think my language skills aren't up to this. I will have to call on Yujiro's help to make some large excuse to Okaasan...try to steer her to the old people's club circle class? Just give up again?

I am so buggered. I wish I hadn't shown her the information about all the classes at the community center, just taken her to the old people's class and let her join that one.

What to do?

Friday, 6 July 2012

JOY to my world :-)

Hula dance class III - success!
Something for Okaasan to do, physical and mental activity, interaction with other people.

Got her all primed by about 9.20 am and took her one subway station away to the area where my classroom is located.
On the way she showed me (she remembers!) where she fell recently. In fact, not the station entrance area - but a sloped, rough ground pathway under the subway she uses the handrails eachside. I wonder how long she lay there before someone helped her?

At the station it is agony to watch her fumble ever so carefully - somehow those contradictory ideas ARE possible - through her handbag as she searched for money to buy gum, and then put the gum in the bag, and then look again for the subway card, and then look for the gum, and then the card...and...and..
Like a small child who has to fasten her little purse just so, and then look up and focus on the next thing..Okaasan and her bag is a whole performace. There are three pockets in the bag and she hunts thru all of them eachtime.

At Hiragishi subway station I steered her to the closest exit to the community center, and then pointed out to Okaasan loudly and clearly the landmarks - BEHIND the supermarket, PAST my classroom, IN FRONT of the hospital. I hope some of this information will sink in and help her in future.

Because YES - there WILL be a future to this class. :-)
It was perfect.
Only 7 students, mostly middle aged, one friendly teacher. A nice clean, new community center room with toilets handy and a service kitchen area for drinks. I'd forgotten to check that she'd brought a bottle of water, and an umbrella...but I stayed for the first few minutes of the class and came back when they'd finished.
Okaasan became lively and happy. I saw her standing with a classmate at the sink area chatting, standing right next to the woman, elbow to elbow, all animated about weather and stuff. She sometimes stands behind Yujiro at the sink like this, standing closer than is natural, almost joined at the hip to him. She was doing it with the classmate. Good sign.
All excellent.

It fits my schedule too - just before I have a class downtown, so I can take her for the next few weeks, and in winter I could even take her by car.

Of course, the great unknown is how many stressy performance days they have. I recognised one of the classmates from somewhere - so I think there will be some as Japanese groups love to display talent at events. But we'll climb that problem when it comes.

Okaasan seemed to enjoy it and was all enthusiastic.

From my classroom window I saw her heading home later. I followed her as far as the corner, to check if she would locate the subway entrance alone and saw her heading into the supermarket. She ate something there, and bought more food at a convenience store and got home mid-afternoon. Quite a long day for her. But she was happy and wants to go again.


...and...yesterday the local newspaper featured me, yet again, this time as a local Brit who has tickets for the Olympics etc. My double-chin is in glorious techni-color for all of Hokkaido to see. 

and then I got home after evening class to find...MY OLYMPIC TICKETS HAD ARRIVED!!!!

I am really going. Really. Going. Soon.  JOYYYYYYYYY!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Meltdowns with an audience.

Thankyou for your supportive, kind comments on the Japanese Cooking Fail No. 5889 - Do Not Ever Serve Korean Pancake with Rice. Ever.

But, it was all more ME over-reacting...and I don't really know why. Just tired after a weekend of cakes and tea party and stuff?
Yujiro actually told me this Handy Cultural Tip in a gentle, helpful way - and I blew up over it. He has learned that criticising my cooking isn't a great idea at the dinner table, and I think he has even trained Okaasan to just eat whatever is on the plate and not comment too much - because a year ago or so I had regular eruptions on this topic when they would comment that "in Japan XXXXX...." - now they just eat it without any comments, and while it is disappointing - it is better than outright helpful criticism.

So, in fact Sunday night it really wasn't his fault.
Mine. Large over-reaction.

The worst thing is: having a meltdown with the audience of Okaasan sitting there across the table. This multi-generational living means that what should only be a momentary scuffle between a couple is forced in control or not in front of an older family member. Grin and get on with it. Furious whispers in the utility room, furtive back patting, knee patting under the table....


But soon? I will fly away from all of this. 3 weeks from now I am going to England to see all my friends, for the longest holiday in ages and two days of Olympic watching.


Meanwhile, better go  today and ask at the community center if the Thursday hula class has vacancies and Okaasan can go tomorrow and try out. many performance events they have....

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

How NOT to sell the next Hula Class.

"Okaasan...there's a hula class at the community center near my classroom!"
"Really? How interesting!"
"Yes, one of my students told me about is the leaflet. Look, on Wednesdays at 2 pm, I can take you there if you like this week."
"Where is this? What time? What is today? Where is this? Is this near here? Is this tomorrow? Where is this place.......... " (repeat x 10)
"You have the leaflet, so you can think about it. If you want to go I can take you there. I'll write it on the calender so we remember when..."

One hour later...

"Dear, kind, thoughtful Oyomesan...I've been looking at this community center leaflet...look! There are two other hula dance classes! The one you showed me is the Elderly Club, I know I am elderly, but I've been doing hula for many years, I am pretty good at it, I don't want to join a class full of old women, I want to go to one of these classes! Look!".

"FUCK" (said under breath).

"Um...don't you think the Elderly Club hula class might be more fun, more relaxing? You are 82 years old...and the other ladies will be similar to you in hula experience and energy...
Last year you were in a class with many younger members and all those performance days - it gave you a lot of stress, you couldn't learn the new dances, you sat here crying and refusing to go, it made you so unhappy....wouldn't an Elderly Club class be more relaxing?"

"I did? Me? But I can do hula, I don't want to be with old people doing it, I have been doing it for years, I can do the dances. I want to go to this class. It's better for me". (repeat till Oyomesan beats head on wall, thru to the neighboring house).

Yujiro: "Sigh. I told you so. You shouldn't have given her the leaflet with information about ALL the center classes. Now she will go to a high level, performing class and get stressed all over again".

Yes. Epic fail.


* and in case you are still thinking of nominating me for Oyomesan Sainthood. I should, in all honesty, admit to a nasty little meltdown and bad behaviour on Sunday night.

I cooked dinner, made Korean style pancakes and served it with rice, soup, veggies and pickles.
Then Yujiro helpfully reminded me: in Japan, we never eat wheat-based food like pancakes with rice.
So I got all stressy with Life in Japan with Japanese Cooking Rules. I snatched up the rice from Okaasan, poured cheese and basil salad dressing over it, ate it myself in furious, emotional silence and stormed out of the house.
Walked round the streets and came home 30 minutes later to calm down.
Sometimes living in Japan with a Japanese family just gets tooooooooooooo much. :-(

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Tea and sympathy

THIS is a Victoria Sponge cake with Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee awesome decorations!
Look! Liz and Phil and the corgis, standing amid the icing sugar, backed by guardsmen and Buck House and even a carriage and some bunting.
Excellent. Many, many thanks to the UK friend who found this piece of royalist frippery. Here is the website that makes them.

It was the centerpiece in my English school Garden Party yesterday - students and friends came to sit in the garden and enjoy a riot of roses, tea, cake, chat and a lot of loud laughter. It was a lot of hard work to prepare, but so worth it to see the smiles and hear the boisterous happiness.
Essential questions included: Why is Shortbread called that? and Prince Philip, who is he? and What is it with the Queen, and corgis?

Okaasanin all this jollity? Exited sharply. As soon as she heard there were guests coming she was out the door. She remembered the time (3 pm) for party start, and 10 minutes later...she was out of her pajamas and into clothes and OUT the door. Gone. No - the idea of chat in Japanese to friendly, mainly middle aged people, with darling son and me, and cake and tea? No. Gone.
Actually easier without her really. But...

Sympathy. For me. The husband of one of my students is a psychiatrist.. and he is offering to help get Okaasan assessed for day care etc - if ONLY I can get Yujiro onto this topic. They came to the tea party with lots of useful leaflets about city services and assessment. Being Japan, there are lots of cute cartoons of confused old people wondering whether they've eaten a meal or why everyone is celebrating on their birthday..

Ahhhh. Sympathy for my plight. People are kind. I know. But the nitty-gritty is that YES, there are all sorts of wonderful, helpful things out there in the community which would make Okaasan and our lives much better...but first, first...I have to get him to want any of that...and take steps to shake up Okaasan's life by getting her accepting of help.

I am going to leave this topic till after I go to London for the Olympics later THIS MONTH = YIPPPPEEE ! - and then, when I come back I will try to choose the best moment and talk to him about this: this winter, Okaasan MUST go to daycare at least once a week. You MUST get the application process for this started, even if we have to get some nice social worker type to come and help us persuade Okaasan on the subject.
It. Will. Happen.
Cheer me on please!

* and in other news...being a sucker for stress I have found a hula dance class near my English classroom. The new community center has a class on Wednesdays at 2 pm for elderly ladies. I even know the teacher, because when I went to find out she recognised me as the kind foreigner who'd helped her a few years ago trying to decipher the lyrics of a hula dance song a friend in Hawaii had given her on CD.
So. Am I brave enough to try yet again to get Okaasan into another dance class?
It's right behind my classroom. 2 pm is a good time for her in the day, after a light lunch. It's near the subway station....the teacher is a friendly woman.
All sounds good. Do I have the energy to try?

Finally...roses. So beautiful this year.

* I may disappear for a while log in details seem to have been it in connection with the Japanese government websites that are being attacked by anonymous hacker-types protesting about new downloading laws? Not sure why..but I'm worried I won't be able to log in again after there may be a pause in ramblings..